The Church of All Nations has a rich history in Carlton, dating back to 1860. In 2010 we celebrated our sesquicentenary, with the theme proposed by Doug Fullerton: ‘Looking ahead: Continuing our tradition’.
A collective memoir was published for the occasion, called The Need is the Call: 150 years of service in Carlton (pictured, right), carefully researched by David & Shirley Johnson and edited by Paul Madden. Contributors include Brian & Renate Howe, Mac Nicoll & Carole Turner. Please contact the church for your own copy of the book for $20 (adding $5 for postage).
Contents of this webpage
- The origins of the church at Palmerston Street (pdf, 1.1Mb)
- A time-line of changes (pdf, 500Kb)
- Colonial architect Joseph Reed (pdf, 760Kb)
- Changes to the buildings & furnishings (pdf, 725Kb)
- Founders’ Day newsletter about the 1860s and 1960s
- Founders’ Day newsletter about Rev. George Dyson
- Founders’ Day newsletter about the 1960-70s
- Founders’ Day newsletter about Ruth Sugden & Harry Whitford
- Rev. Brian Howe on CAN in the 1960s
- ‘Migrant Diary’ by Rev. Norm Lowe, 1973
- Olivia Ball’s reflections on 1993-2008
The late Rev. Dr Doug Fullerton and Paul Madden edited 3 special newsletters to share some of CAN’s history. This first one touches on both the 1860s and the 1960s:
CAN 150th Newsletter 1 (pdf, 1.8Mb)
The 3rd newsletter, written by Paul Madden and Mac Nicoll, focusses on the 1960s and early ’70s, when we became the Church of All Nations, truly at the forefront of multi-cultural Australia:
CAN 150th Newsletter 3 (pdf, 1.0Mb)
(N.B. On p2, Mac incorrectly refers to ‘the Dungeon’ as ‘the Catacombs.’ He says it was never called the catacombs. Norm Lowe reminds us that the ‘dungeon’ appellation — for what is today the Drop-in Centre — arose in the 1960s when the space was used by the youth group. Given freedom to choose a colour for the walls, the youth painted it black.)
The 4th newsletter, by Paul Madden & Dr Renate Howe, profiles two of our revered lay leaders: Ruth Sugden (at CAN from 1888 until her death in 1932) and Harry Whitford (from the 1940s through to the early ’70s).
On Founders’ Day 2008, Rev. Brian Howe (pictured) preached on the church’s remarkable ministry in the 1960s. Here is the text of his sermon:
‘They met constantly to hear the apostles teach, and to share the common life, to break bread, and to pray.’ (Acts 2:42)
We are celebrating today the foundation, and the ongoing witness of this Church in Palmerston St, Carlton, which came to be called the Church of all Nations, in the 1960’s. The 1960’s was a momentous decade including many important events, the election and tragically the assassination of John F Kennedy, the civil rights campaign lead by the Union Seminary educated Martin Luther King and also by his murder in 1968. It was a decade marked at times by great hope as in the Ecumenical Council in Rome and the War on Poverty in the United States and yet it was also marked as John Updike said with ‘ the murder of hope’. A reference perhaps not only to the murder of important leaders also the tragedy of the Vietnam War.
Churches also in Australia saw, at least in this decade, many reasons for optimism The Church seemed on a wave, with Australia’s rapidly growing suburban congregations, a decline in sectarianism and new climate of ecumenical cooperation between Christian Churches as well as record numbers of students in seminaries and theological colleges. There was also the emergence of a new generation of well-educated leaders in the church committed to reinvigoration and reform and to a stronger engagement with society. The increasing influence of the ecumenical movement, internationally, helped to give many church leaders in this period, a broader perspective.
In 1961 the WCC in New Delhi set in motion a major study of the ‘missionary structure of the local congregation’. Colin Williams who was professor of systematic theology at Queens (1958-62) a member of this committee published a series of study books during the 1960’s on this theme (What in the World? Where in the World?) in which he was very critical of the overwhelming concentration of churches on local communities or parishes and advocated a much wider engagement of the church in the big issues facing Australian society. The rapid spread of urbanisation lead to an increasing interest in the mission of the church in cities.
There existed a widespread feeling, especially among younger people, that there was a need to move beyond denominationalism and define the church’s role on modern society much more in terms of its engagement with society. At an institutional level much ecumenical discussion focused on denominational differences such as the barriers that existed to intercommunion. The power remained still with denominationally based hierarchies determined not to concede too much authority to extra church movements.
There was rigidity about the church and church structures, an introspective quality as opposed to engagement with the world.
The picture of the early church as painted in the classical passage from Acts that was one of the lessons this morning, they continued in the apostles teaching and fellowship in the breaking of bread and in prayers is a picture of a mission driven church full of energy reaching out to the Mediterranean world where there would be a constant breaking down of the barriers of nation, race, language, class and culture.
Colin Williams expressed it thus, ‘The life of the apostolic fellowship therefore far from being a self-enclosed life of a new and separate institution in the world, is a life that reveals within the institutional structures of the world, a new life that transcends the old walls of division. It is in this way that the church reveals to the world the new unity of life in Christ.’
Theologians and church strategists in the sixties emphasized the dynamic or living character, the being of the church in action, as opposed to focusing on its traditional denominational and institutional character. They wanted a church that would be able to engage with the modern world with all its problems, to stake out its own position not simply reflect society back to itself. The danger for an insecure church, a church concerned with self-preservation, will be that it will lack the courage of its convictions and fail to address the need to change. A church, which spoke about the possibilities of people assuming a new being needed to reflect that sense of vigour in its own life, so much so, that it could offer real leadership in society.
There was a major emphasis on the theme that mission is essentially God’s mission in which the church is called to be the servant of the servant lord, in which the marks of the church are to be seen in its solidarity with those threatened with exclusion bringing an active ministry of reconciliation and hope. In a few weeks time we will have with us a South African theologian Nico Koopman who will show how important this message was in South Africa in the struggle against apartheid. However we should not underestimate how important it was in inner city Melbourne, in Australia to have church’s committed to an outward looking and action-oriented ministry.
Australia through the post-war period was going through a period of massive transformation of our population and life style, a new and very different economy along with as a consequence of post-war immigration, much larger and diverse and less Anglo Celtic cities. The tens of thousands of settlers arriving in Australia each month, from so many different countries tended to settle in the inner city in often-overcrowded houses and declining neighbourhoods typically losing services when many more services were needed. Churches faced with declining inner city congregations were persuaded by inner city Ministers such as Alf Foote and then Norman Lowe in Carlton that rather than deserting the inner city they should recognise the need to expand their efforts.
‘Today in the mission, experiment is the key word. In this changing multiracial community the church is compelled to rethink her mission.’ (AE Foote, 1960)
It was this challenge that Norman and Audrey Lowe took up in Carlton. Australian society in the 1960’s was still gripped with assimilationist ideas based on the White Australia Policy. This policy like apartheid in South Africa ultimately expressed itself in the way that people were treated at the level of communities and neighbourhoods. Often individual people did what they could to get to know and to welcome ‘New Australians’ but this good will was not reinforced by good policy. No barrier was more significant than the barrier of language and it was to this barrier that CAN sought to break down initially through simultaneous translation of its church services , a move of enormous symbolic importance to the Australian church and to Australian society. However CAN did not remain at the level of symbols it sought to demonstrate through the innovative services that it created, that the Church would do all that it could to ensure that the increasingly wide range of ethnic groups it served (Spanish, Portuguese, Macedonian and Arabic) were met at airports, assisted with housing and jobs and most importantly that there was an ongoing program of language teaching, language laboratories and a volunteer home tutor team.
The language teaching of CAN became a model copied in many places around Australia and help to define government policy away from the assimilationist polices of the past towards the multiculturalism that Australia celebrates today. This could not have been done without an enormous amount of research and investigation and without having fully involved educational experts such a Mac Nicol helping with their expertise to develop a fully professional program. It also could not have happened if there had not been significant efforts especially on Norman Lowe’s part to persuade, the then conservative government in Canberra, that at the grass roots level an ambitious immigration program was being threatened for lack of understanding of the great challenges people from differing cultures make in moving to a new society.
CAN’s influence on public policy goes much wider than the development of a national Volunteer Teachers Scheme building on the CAN model. People anticipated a much wider effort to get interpreters operating in banks, in health services in education, in the Department of Social Security and ultimately telephone interpreter services. I still remember the shock in our local primary school when we insisted that parent and teacher nights should have simultaneous translation of what the principal said, and that people should be broken up into language groups to discuss their children’s progress in school. Of course there were other important experimental, ministries that played an important role in building momentum for policy change including the Ecumenical Migration Centre in Richmond in the fifties and with Norman Lowe’s full support, the Fitzroy Ecumenical Centre (CURA) established in the late sixties. There were many battles and some important victories. In what became a growing movement for a multi cultural Australia they’re as a new spirit of ecumenism. People worked mostly ignoring denominational even religious differences. And yet there was something of a contrast then between what we saw happening on the ground and the more formal struggle of the churches to realise an institutional unity. These experimental ministries were often demonstrating the sense of church without walls, of preaching designed to help enliven the human spirit and to create hope.
Walter Freytag has said that,
‘All preaching of the gospel is a step towards something new. Of the proclamation of the gospel something new always comes into being. There always comes into being another church’
The Church of All Nations reflected a movement of the spirit that of course cannot be captured as much as we can learn from its experience. The task today, as it was then is to create a new church which will be born of the word and the spirit, through listening in engagement with this ever changing community of Carlton.
Rev. Brian Howe, 13 April 2008
A chronicle imagined by Norman C. Lowe in 1973 to educate Anglo-Australians about migrant experience.
As our plane arrived in Melbourne, I thought back to the time when I watched the advertisement on TV saying that life in sunny Australia was very attractive, and how comfortable life would be. I remembered the phrase, ‘Come to Australia where the sunshine is.’
Tonight I was told that three thousand other people have arrived in Australia this week, half of them do not speak English and less than half will live in a hostel.
Finding a house has been hard. The rents were much higher than I expected. I was asked what amount of rent I wanted to pay, but how will I know this until I knew what wages I shall earn?
I found employment today. Because I don’t speak English I will earn about $55-60 per week. I took a house for my wife and four children. It will cost $21, which seems a lot out of my wage. It’s not as good as the house back home, but then I expected to rough it when I first arrived in this country. Of course I have to obtain furniture and, arriving by plane, I was not able to bring any of the mementos from home.
Tonight it is cold and raining. Where is the sunshine? Because Australia is a land of sunshine I did not bring warm clothes with me, and my children tonight are complaining about the cold.
Work was difficult today. They do things so differently in Australia. I’m expected to know how Australians do things. I’m told there is no retraining courses available here in Australia. Perhaps Australians think that everyone in the world does things exactly the way Australia does.
Another thing that surprises me is how far I have to travel to my work. And the fares are so high! When I took a job, I did not think it would cost me four dollars a week to get to and from work.
My wife took the children along to school today. Someone had told us that it is compulsory for them to go to school. My wife tells me that, by the look on the teacher’s face, the teacher’s obvious reaction was, ‘More migrants who don’t speak English.’ What is a migrant, I wonder? She was told the children must be in uniform. This will cost at least $80 for the eldest child. Where will the money come from? I was not able to bring more than ten dollars with me when I came to Australia.
Juan came home from school today. He has been sitting in a class with other children while they did arithmetic. He recognised the figures.
Somehow I thought there would be special English classes for children, but there doesn’t seem to be a special class in his school. What is the use of a history lesson if he can’t understand it? Juan asked, what is a New Australian? What is a wog? I told him I think a New Australian is someone who has come from overseas, but I don’t know what a wog is, but I guess I’ll find out.
We received a letter today telling me about English classes at night at the local school and inviting me to go to them. Now that is very good. My wife and I can go and we shall learn English. Then I remembered, ‘Oh no, I can’t go, I’m working shift work and my wife will have to stay home with the children.’ What a pity.
Today my wife was talking with a friend who speaks English. She says that Australians are very intolerant of migrants who don’t speak English. I find it hard to learn English, but I know I must. Until I speak English, I will never get a much better job than I am doing now, which is a repetitive job in a factory.
Bills, bills, bills! The Gas Company wants a deposit, and the Electricity people want a deposit. There is rent to pay, somehow we must get some furniture, Hospital Benefits will cost $1.80 per week, there are school books, uniforms. My wife says she will get a job. She has talked to our Portuguese friend along the street who will look after our youngest child. There don’t seem to be many child-minding centres in Melbourne.
Strange, Maria our youngest child is now speaking some Portuguese, not English. When she gets to school I suppose she will learn English, but in the meantime, she will speak a mixture of Portuguese and our language. What a pity she can’t learn English now.
I feel terribly lonely tonight. I received a letter from my parents saying my brother had died. He was buried a week ago, they did not write before as they knew I could not do anything. Wish they had written, at least I could have shared their grief with them at that time. I feel so lonely.
I’ve been sending money back to my parents because they just have so many difficulties, and I must send them more money back for funeral expenses. Where will it come from? I wish I had not told them the reason I was coming to Australia was because it was such a wealthy country. There isn’t as much money here as I thought there would be. How can I tell them I have been mistaken?
A fellow at work told me that the factory will be closed for nearly four weeks at Christmastime. As I’ve only been here six weeks, I will get almost a week’s pay for the whole period. I will be paid for the public holidays, but will not get annual holiday pay. How shall I live for the other three weeks? The kids’ first Christmas in Australia! They won’t understand we have no money for presents or special food. Perhaps I can make it up to them next Christmas.
Wish they had English classes during this period. I would gladly go to them. And so would the children. They haven’t learnt much English in school yet, and I certainly haven’t much English. English classes during the holiday period would mean they could learn English and do well next year at school, and I could perhaps get a better job.
Back at work now and we are desperately in need of this money. My wife going out to work meant she had to pay the Portuguese lady to look after the children during the holidays and of course she has to buy more expensive food, but I suppose it’s worth it. But she never did have to work back home. Strange to think that here in the 1970s I am being a pioneer. Never thought of being a pioneer at my age in the 1970s. Children want a television set. They’ve been watching their neighbour’s television and see all kinds of things on it, which we haven’t got in our home. Keep asking, when are we going to get this or that? One day we will have these things, I know. But it’s hard for the children.
Joseph was sick today and we went to the doctor. It wasn’t his fault, but he couldn’t understand us as we have so little English, and we don’t understand him. What happens when someone needs psychiatric help here? You just wouldn’t be able to talk to a psychiatrist. No wonder there are a lot of mental problems amongst migrants in Australia.
Talked to a friend today who is a professional person who migrated to Australia. He says he’d had great difficulty even though he is educated, in having his qualifications recognised here. Because you don’t speak English with an Australian accent, people think you are different and perhaps less educated than they are. Can’t understand why Australians think their degrees are better than everyone else’s degrees. Our universities are much older than theirs. He told me of a doctor who wanted to practise here and was told to write to six different states to get information about each state. Wouldn’t you think there’d be one place to which he could go to get all the information you require?
In my notes I’ve been talking about difficulties. I came here because I thought it would be better for my children and I guess it will be. They may not get all the benefits I expected for them, but certainly my grandchildren will. People tell me I should not expect to ever really feel completely at home. I wonder if when I am a naturalized Australian, I will feel differently? I long to be a happy, complete and mature person, enjoying life in comfortable surroundings. One day, maybe! Perhaps!
Changes at CAN, 1993-2008
A speech given by Olivia Ball to welcome Rev. Dr John Evans on the occasion of his induction
Church of All Nations, Carlton
20 January 2008
I’ve been a member of the Church of All Nations for 15 years. I started here as an Order of St Stephen worker, aged 20. Cast your mind back to 1993. Paul Keating was Prime Minister. And the deputy Prime Minister of Australia was a member of this congregation. Our minister then was another John: John Rickard. We had a youth group then, a small bunch of terrific kids, now all grown up and gone. The congregation used to meet monthly in each other’s homes for dinner on a Friday night. It was called Open Family or Open House.
In 1993 Ailsa Bowyer had just started working with us in her critical role in the Emergency Relief programme, then open for 2 hours each weekday. Meanwhile, Carole Turner was at the helm at the Carlton Senior Citizens’ Centre, maintaining the congregation’s intrinsic connection with Senior Cits, that we now lack.
What struck me when I first walked into this church was the enormous Aboriginal Land Rights flag at the front of the church. I’ve been an elder or church councillor for much of the intervening period and am pleased to say the Church of All Nations has always endeavoured to ‘Pay the Rent’, whether by supporting Congress or other indigenous organisations. One very noteworthy development since then is the establishment of the Indigenous Hospitality House, an intentional Christian community started by members of this congregation and housed in a property belonging to CAN in Drummond Street, North Carlton. It is unique, offering accommodation to the relatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are hospitalised in Melbourne.
In the past 15 years CAN has had three ministers; no more and no fewer than one might expect. But we did have two simultaneous ministerial placements at one stage, one with primary oversight of the congregation and the other with a more diaconal role, in outreach ministry to housing estate residents. That latter function has since been filled by lay workers. Our Community Support Agency now has a richer offering of programmes, including a Drop-in Centre, a Women’s Programme and Good Food programme bringing fresh food to the estate.
We have also been proud to launch the ordained ministry of two Uniting Church clergy: Rev. Dr Ji Zhang, now settled in Bentleigh, and Dr Avril Hannah-Jones, an intern at Romsey, due to be ordained here in April. [later deferred to October]
The church has enjoyed a bit of a facelift in recent years, with this ‘dungeon’ renovated – once painted in ‘institutional blue’ – plus a gleaming new kitchen. A rainwater tank now supplies our principal water use: watering the garden beds. We have also built a beautiful chapel inside the church proper. When the opportunity arose, we sold the big, old manse in Brunswick and bought glamourous new digs in Drummond Street.
Looking further afield, Fitzroy Uniting Church has closed its doors, leaving CAN as the only Uniting Church presence in this inner-city region. The consequences for our outreach ministry in particular are clear. Demand for emergency relief has never stopped growing.
Our interfaith relations continue to flourish. There is no synagogue close by, but we enjoy warm relations with our local mosque. Local ecumenical relations have proven a greater challenge, somehow. With the best of intentions, it is difficult to live out the Lund Principle: that we Christians should do together all but that which conscience requires us to do separately.
As regards other local institutions, we are fortunate now to have the advantage of the Melbourne University chaplain as a member of our congregation – the Rev. Dr Wes Campbell – and also the President of the Carlton Residents’ Association, Greta Bird.
Church of All Nations has also entered the 21st century, with a smart new website to be found at http://carlton.unitingchurch.org.au [later http://carlton-uca.org]
The congregation is probably smaller than it was 15 years ago. But we somehow manage to maintain a critical mass, with a redoubtable core of exceptional people. These people are, for me, what makes the Church of All Nations so very special, from our beloved Doug Fullerton, who’s soon to turn 90, to Tracey’s adorable daughter Charli, who’s only a few months old.
At the risk of singling out an individual, I think at this point tribute must be paid to Paul Madden. He has guided this parish through the past 18 months, through the period of transition that is always difficult for a congregation, when it must re-examine its needs and search for a new minister. Paul works endlessly and unheralded to keep this place running. Somehow, he is always there when needed: when the ceiling falls in (as it did in Senior Cits), he’s there; when the power is cut off (in the manse at the height of summer), Paul is there.
I reflect on some of these changes I have observed, not only to give John Evans a taste of our recent history, but also to demonstrate that we are not a congregation resistant to change. I hope that will encourage John, knowing that he is not coming to a parish that will dig in its heels and resist anything new. D’Arcy Wood was spot-on when he perceived during his recent supply ministry with us, that we are a parish ready, in need of change.
Harold Kushner says that it’s generally accepted in Judaism that a rabbi will be great at preaching and teaching, or else gifted in pastoral care; that it’s rare to find both talents in the one person. In the Church, I think we tend to be less wise and more ambitious: we want our ministers to be able to preach and teach and care and often a great deal more.
I am confident that in John Evans we are fortunate to have found such a person. May I also assure him that he will find at Church of All Nations a model of collaborative ministry. Yes, we need a leader – someone of vision, energy and integrity; someone willing to embrace the ecumenical and interfaith ideal to which we feel called and, moreover, someone convinced of Jesus’ preferential option for the poor – but we are not one to sit back and expect you to toil alone. I trust that you will find at the Church of All Nations a warm welcome, and beyond that, a great deal of mutuality and support in your ministry with us, as you cultivate our ministry together.
And thus I wish to add my voice to the welcome you have received here tonight, and may God bless your journey with us.